Old rivalries die hard in Italy’s provincial reshuffle

Old rivalries die hard in Italy’s provincial reshuffle

LUCCA, 2 September – It’s easy to forget that Italy as a political entity has only existed for the last 150 years, born of a forced marriage between a handful of warring nation states. Scratch the surface of modern Italy however and these ancient divisions are far from forgotten. The recent heated debate over the re-organisation of Italy’s provincial governments goes to show how close to the surface they really are. 

Two thirds of Italy’s provincial administrations are shortly due to be dissolved or merged, following the radical cuts that have been introduced with the Monti government’s so-called spending review legislation, designed to bring Italy’s public debt under control by cutting 26 billion euros over the next three years.

The spending review dictates the aggregation of smaller provincial administrations (under 350,000 inhabitants and less than 2500 sq km) into a single entity, in an effort to rationalise spending and functions. 

In Tuscany, an initial proposal was to see the merger of Prato and Pistoia under Florence, while Lucca, Massa Carrara and Livorno were to be merged under Pisa as the Coastal Province and Siena, Grosseto and Arezzo were to merge as the Southern Tuscan province with Siena as the capital. A subsequent proposal by many of Lucca’s political groups and public figures however advocates the fusion of Lucca and Massa Carrara in a province that could also include Pistoia. 

While to an outsider the rationalisation of public resources seems a sensible idea, particularly in a period where public spending has reached and breached crisis point, the issue has provoked intense debate, focussing less on the potential loss of public services (and indeed what will be gained by merging instead of eliminating the provincial administrations) and more on who exactly will be merged with who, and who will take the driver’s seat as capital of the new mega-provinces.

Although Florence is set to maintain its position as a capital, how the other provinces will be merged remains an open debate, and many voices [including the editorial staff of local media and of LoSchermo.it] have been raised in protest over the loss of autonomy (and, potentially, of resources) for large cities like Lucca, with the forced merger of provinces that once spent hundreds of years trying to wipe each other from the face of the earth. 

Ancient rivalries die hard in modern Italy. Graffiti on walls declaring ‘Lucca merda’ (Fu*k Lucca) or ‘Pisa merda’ (Fu*k Pisa) are still a common sight in both towns. A classic saying, albeit intended humourously, by Lucchesi is: “Meglio un morto in casa che un pisano alla porta” (better a dead person in your house than a Pisan at your door). In Pisa, Lucchese takes the place of Pisan in the same sentence. The sentiment is not exclusive to Lucca and Pisa, for as one Facebook comic put it: “The dream of every Pisan is to wake and see the ocean without Livorno in the way” and most neighbouring Tuscan cities share the antagonism that is a legacy of ancient border delineation and defence. 

That these ancient feuds might halt the improvement of public governance can appear baffling to foreigners, particularly given the abundant number of government structures in Italy – municipal, provincial, and regional – and their numerous authorities, but provincial independence remains a a deeply-held sentiment.

President of the Lucca province Stefano Baccelli, together with president of the Arezzo province Roberto Vasai, and president of the Livorno province Giorgio Kutufà, have appealed to the Regional Governor Enrico Rossi (who may ultimately hold the deciding vote in the re-organisation of the provinces) against the creation of three mega provinces with capitals of Florence, Pisa and Siena, arguing that the provinces should be able to autonomously decide how to re-organise themselves. 

Read the fascinating historical background to the story of Lucca’s indipendence by Iacopo Lazzareschi Cervelli

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